Fresno State a year ago led Mountain West Conference football in passing defense and even then, the Bulldogs had some wideouts go for big games against them.
One small mistake can lead to a big play; it happens.
But that Bulldogs pass defense is suddenly leaking.
The Bulldogs still have allowed only 19 explosive pass plays of 20 or more yards, tied with Boise State for the fewest in the conference, but nine of them have come in a 43-24 loss at Air Force, a 56-27 win over UNLV and last week a 41-31 loss to Colorado State.
Fresno State has allowed five passing touchdowns in the past two games, and 13 on the year.
That puts the Bulldogs in a tough spot and looking for some answers headed to Hawaii for what could be an elimination game in the MW West Division race and a matchup against the best passing offense in the conference.
“These guys have four guys I think over 400, 500 yards so they spread it around really well,” coach Jeff Tedford said. “They’re very fast. The quarterback is very accurate. They do a great job with what they do, so you can’t really focus on one guy because they are very, very balanced.
“Obviously, like everybody, playing Hawaii, you have to try to slow them down somehow and that’s easier said than done.”
The Rainbow Warriors are averaging 354.5 passing yards per game with a returning starter at quarterback in Cole McDonald and that diverse set of experienced receivers.
There are only nine wideouts in the Mountain West who have 35 or more receptions and Hawaii has four of them – senior Cedric Byrd II with 59, junior Jared Smart with 44, senior Jason-Matthew Sharsh with 39 and senior Jojo Ward with 37.
There are five teams in the conference that don’t have a wideout with even 30 receptions at this point, including the Bulldogs.
Hawaii also has 28 passing touchdowns, 10 more than any team in the Mountain West.
The Rainbow Warriors last week dismissed wideout Melquise Stovall, who was third on the team with four touchdown receptions. But junior Kumoku Noa, playing in his first game in two years, caught four passes for 120 yards including a 54-yard touchdown in a victory at New Mexico.
Fresno State has one sack in its past three games, a banged up secondary and this season has been hit hard by some receivers …
USC – Tyler Vaughns 11 receptions for 150 yards
Minnesota – Rashod Bateman 7 for 105 and 1 TD
UNLV – Randal Grimes 4 for 45 and 2 TDs
UNLV – Noah Bean 2 for 105 and 1 TD
Colorado State – Warren Jackson 9 for 178 and 1 TD
The details: how to watch, and more
When: Saturday, 9 p.m.
Where: Aloha Stadium, (50,000)
TV: KAIL (Robert Kekaula, Rich Miano, Scott Robbs) Comcast (13, 713) AT&T Uverse (53, 1053), DirecTV (53), Dish (53)/facebook.com
Radio: 940AM/ESPN (Paul Loeffler, Pat Hill and Ryan Colburn)
Records: Bulldogs 3-4, 1-2 in the MW, Rainbow Warriors 5-3, 2-2
Series: Bulldogs lead 28-22-1
Most recent meetings:
2018 – Bulldogs 50-20
2017 – Bulldogs 31-21
2016 – Hawaii 14-13
2015 – Bulldogs 42-14
2014 – Bulldogs 28-21
Vegas line: Hawaii -2
Weather: high 80s and sunny with a low of 74
Tickets to future Bulldogs home games: gobulldogs.com/559-278-DOGS (3647) or any ticket-resale site. Single-game tickets start at $27. Go to the Fresno State website for details about promotions and pre-game and in-game activities.
Why so late?
The kickoff at Hawaii is 6 p.m. Honolulu time. But Hawaii doesn’t observe Daylight Savings Time (which ends Sunday morning), so there’s a three-hour time difference.
More about TV
Fresno State announced on Monday a deal with local television station KAIL to broadcast Bulldogs games starting with football Saturday at Hawaii. Previously, the game was only going to be available on Facebook.
The KAIL deal includes 10 home basketball games, five men’s and five women’s.
Hawaii has played three of its past four games on the road and in the past returning home after a similar stretch has been rough – six losses in a row by an average of 19.5 points ...
2019 lost to Air Force, 56-26
2017 lost to Colorado State, 51-21
2015 lost to San Diego State, 28-14
2015 lost to Fresno State, 42-14
2014 lost to Nevada, 26-18
2013 lost to San Diego State, 28-21
Fresno State has won its past five games at Hawaii.
The Bulldogs are not playing solid football at the moment, losing two of their first three Mountain West games and even the one in the middle, a victory over UNLV, didn’t come easy. Fresno State was in a one-score game late in the third quarter before linebacker Justin Rice returned a fumble 18 yards for a touchdown.
The Bulldogs then stopped the Rebels on downs and intercepted two passes, turning all three stops into touchdowns to pull away in a 56-27 victory. Those drives covered 67, 1 and 23 yards.
If the past is a precursor, this week could be just as crazy.
In 2015, the Bulldogs had lost two games in a row and seven of eight when they traveled to play a Hawaii team that was in the midst of its own struggles.
But quarterback Zack Greenlee, who had lost the starting job twice that season, hit on 20 of 35 passes for 285 yards and six touchdowns in a 42-14 victory over the Rainbow Warriors.
The following week, Greenlee completed only 14 of 41 passes for 125 yards and was intercepted three times in a 52-10 loss at BYU.
About that defense … Hawaii’s, that is
Hawaii is ranked ninth in the conference in rushing defense, eighth in passing defense, tied for 10th in total defense and 10th in scoring defense.
It won at New Mexico on Saturday 45-31, but gave up a career-high 200 rushing yards and two touchdowns on just 16 plays to running back Ahmari Davis and allowed quarterback Tevaka Tuioti to complete a season-high 57.5% of his passes (23 of 40) for 293 yards and two touchdowns.
Fresno State hasn’t used its run game to control clock – it has been on the short side of time of possession in all three conference games including a 39:29 to 20:31 deficit at Air Force.
The Bulldogs could have that chance at Hawaii, coming off a loss to Colorado State in which running back Ronnie Rivers had a season-high 146 yards and two touchdowns on just 14 plays.
Mountain West standings
San Diego St.
San Jose St.
Army at Air Force, 12:30 p.m.
UNLV at Colorado State, 12:30 p.m.
BYU at Utah State, 7 p.m.
Boise State at San Jose State, 7:30 p.m.
New Mexico at Nevada, 7:30 p.m.
Fresno State at Hawaii, 9 p.m.
Fresno State schedule
Aug. 31 lost 31-23 at USC
Sept. 7 lost 38-35 (overtime) vs. Minnesota
Sept. 21 won 34-20 vs. Sacramento State
Sept. 28 won 30-17 at New Mexico State
Oct. 12 lost 43-24 at Air Force
Oct. 18 won 56-27 vs. UNLV
Oct. 26 lost 41-31 vs. Colorado State
Nov. 2 at Hawaii, 9 p.m. (KAIL)
Nov. 9 vs. Utah State, 4 p.m. (CBS Sports Network)
Nov. 15 at San Diego State, 6:30 p.m. (ESPN2)
Nov. 23 vs. Nevada, TBA (ESPN networks)
Nov. 30 at San Jose State, TBA (ESPN networks)
Robert Kuwada: @rkuwada